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Kamer KASIM, Assoc. Prof. Dr.
09 May 2006 - JTW
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.iq0 face="Verdana" sNARMENIA'S FOREIGN POLICY: BASIC PARAMETERS OF TER-PETROSYAN AND KOCHARYAN ERAsArmenia became independent in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.h for it during the process to lead the independent republic of Armenia.

On 31st of January 1991, Armenia’s Supreme Soviet voted to boycott the all actions taken by Moscow. As a result Armenia boycotted the Union referendum, which took place on 17th of March 1991. Armenia showed its will for independence even earlier. The Armenian Pan-National Movement (ANM) whose roots back to the Karabakh Committee, played a crucial role in the independence process. Levon Ter-Petrosyan, who was one of the leaders of the Karabakh Committee and the ANM, became the first president of the Republic of Armenia.

Armenia’s foreign policy was dominated by the developments of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and its impacts. Besides the conflict, to arrangement of Armenia’s relations with its neighbours and Russia, the successor of the Soviet Union was Armenian administrations’ priority in conducting Armenian foreign policy.

In this article, the basic parameters of Armenian foreign policy will be analysed in the periods of Armenia’s two presidents. In this context differences and similarities of the Ter-Petrosyan’s and Kocharyan’s foreign policy and Armenia’s strategic priorities will be discussed.

Armenia’s Foreign Policy In The Ter-Petrosyan Era

Levon Ter-Petrosyan was elected as the first President of Armenia on 16th of October 1991. He was graduated from the Oriental Studies Department of Yerevan State University in 1968. He completed his postgraduate studies at the Leningrad oriental Studies Institute. Ter-Petrosyan became well known in Armenian politics with his leadership of Karabakh Committee, which aimed to put Nagorno-Karabakh under the jurisdiction of Armenia. He was arrested together with other members of the Committee on 10th of December 1988. In 1989, he was elected member of the Board of the ANM and then he became the Chairman of the Board. When Ter-Petrosyan became the President of the Republic of Armenia, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was the major issue for Armenian foreign policy. Before discussing Armenia’s Karabakh policy under his presidency, factors, which affected Armenia’s foreign policy orientation and decision making process will be discussed.

Being a land lock state and lack of natural resources Armenia can not be considered one of the strategically important regional state. Armenia’s economic progress and political stability depended on its ability to establish good relations with its neighbours and to manage to get economic aid from outside. However, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Armenia’s policy towards it affected Armenia’s relations with its neighbours and also the regional stability. Russia played an important role in Armenia’s foreign policy. As it will be discussed below, although both Ter-Petrosyan and Kocharyan tried to reduce Armenia’s dependency on Russia, they were not successful and Armenia became a Russia’s client state. Relations with the US were also important for Armenia, particularly for its economy, since Armenia became the second largest recipient of the US aid after Israel.

Armenia has presidential system and President appoints and dismisses the Prime Minister and President can also dissolve the National Assembly and designate special elections consulting with the National Assembly’s President and Prime Minister. Thus, it can be argued that Armenia has very strong presidential system. In terms of foreign policy making also President appears to be the most powerful figure and shapes Armenia’s foreign policy. However, there are also forces, which influence Armenia’s foreign policy making process and they might restrict President’s movement regarding foreign policy matters. Armenian diaspora and the diaspora parties are forces, which try to influence Armenian foreign policy and they were in conflict with Ter-Petrosyan during his presidency. Besides organized diaspora groups, individual diaspora members played an important role in Armenia’s foreign policy.

Particularly at the beginning of the independence of Armenia, there was severe shortage of skilled foreign policy personnel and specialist. In that atmosphere diaspora Armenians took part in the foreign policy making process. For example, Gerard Libaridian, who was born in Beirut and is a US citizen, was a senior presidential adviser of Ter-Petrosyan and he has been a key architect of Armenian foreign policy and played important role during the negotiations for the solution of the Nagorno- Karabakh problem. Rafii Hovanissian, who was the first Foreign Minister of the Republic of Armenia and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian were also diaspora members.

Foreign Policy of the ANM And Ter-Petrosyan

Ter-Petrosyan was aware of the fact that land locked Armenia needed to establish good relations with its neighbours for economic recovery and political stability. He described the aim of his policy as normalization of Armenia’s foreign policy. To reach this aim Armenia had to establish normal diplomatic relations with Turkey and Armenia also had to reach certain understanding with Azerbaijan. Normalization of Armenia’s relations with Turkey required to call off the genocide claims and to find solution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. For the former, the ANM and Ter-Petrosyan showed sign of taking steps. Ter-Petrosyan argued against to put genocide claims in the document of “Declaration of Independence of Armenia”. However, majority of deputies voted in favour of the paragraph, which stated that “Republic of Armenia would support efforts to achieve international recognition of the Armenian Genocide” Ter-Petrosyan and the ANM came under heavy attack from the diaspora parties, the Armenian Revolutionary Front (Dashnaks-ARF) and the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (ADP). Besides these diaspora parties also the Armenian Communist Party (ACP) criticised Ter-Petrosyan. These parties had also territorial ambitions and they inclined not to recognize territorial integrity of Armenia’s neighbours like Turkey. For example a leader of the ADL stated that “We have always maintained that the territory of this Republic of Armenia is the nucleus of tomorrow’s Greater Armenia. In this respect, we expect the newly formed government to commit itself to the restoration of our historic rights. More specifically, the new Republic must include in its on-going agenda the recognition of the Armenian genocide and our historic territorial claims by the international community.”

Ter-Petrosyan and the ANM had to confront with the strong opposition to implement their foreign policy, particularly regarding Armenian’s relations with Turkey and Armenia’s policy towards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Ter-Petrosyan aimed to normalize Armenia’s relations with Turkey. Ter-Petrosyan argued that Turkey did not pose any threat to Armenia and normalization of Armenia’s relations with Turkey beneficial for Armenia. Ter-Petrosyan’s senior adviser Gerard Libaridian also argued that “… what if having normal diplomatic and economic relations with Turkey is in the interest of Armenia as well as of Karabakh? Would not improved Armeno-Turkish relations weaken the Azerbaijani negotiating position, the rigidity of which is based on a policy of struggling the Armenian economy? Should the answer to these questions be positive… then the normalization of relations with Turkey would facilitate Armenia’s role as a transit route of Caspian Sea hydrocarbon resources.” Although Ter-Petrosyan expressed his will for normalization of Armenia’s relations with Turkey, Armenia’s policy towards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict prevented any improvement in the relations between the two states. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict started in 1988 before the independence of Armenia. When Armenia became independent in 1991, the Nagorno-Karabakh administration also declared “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”. Armenia’s foreign policy was based on to give the impression that Armenia was not a part of the conflict and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was the internal affairs of Azerbaijan. Armenia did not recognize the “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”. Ter-Petrosyan stated that “We want to make every effort to ensure that the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh is not regarded as a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is wrong to say that Armenia has territorial claims on Azerbaijan. But if we officially recognize the ‘Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh’, we could be accused of interference or even provocation.” Despite Ter-Petrosyan’s effort to give the impression that Armenia had nothing to the with the conflict, it would not be possible for Karabakh Armenians to occupy the territory of Azerbaijan without the support of Armenia. Especially after the Khocali massacre in which 1000 Azerbaijani were killed, the government of Armenia was concerned about the possible international criticism and tried to hide its active support for Karabakh Armenians in the conflict. However, international observes indicated that Armenian military forces did take part in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Besides the government of Armenia did not denounce its decision to consider the Nagorno-Karabakh as a part of Armenia and Ter-Petrosyan appointed Serge Sargisian as a Defence Minister in August 1993. Serge Sarkisian was a member of parliament in Armenia and Karabakh. Armenian forces’ occupation of the territory of Azerbaijan made impossible to normalize Turkey’s relations with Armenia. Ter-Petrosyan’s aimed to improve relations with Turkey contradicted his foreign policy towards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. With his policy towards the conflict, Ter-Petrosyan could not satisfy the diaspora and diaspora based parties either. Armenian foreign policy during Ter-Petrosyan era was heavily criticized by the diaspora parties and Armenian diaspora. Diaspora involved the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through their efforts in the US.

Armenian diaspora in the US played an important role in the US Congress’ decision of Freedom Support Act section 907, prevented the US government from sending humanitarian assistance to Azerbaijan. Conflict between Ter-Petrosyan and diaspora based parties, particularly the ARF, reached a new stage when Ter-Petrosyan administration banned the ARF to operate in Armenia on 28th of December 1994. After that all Dashnaks’ organizations around world started a campaign against Ter-Petrosyan administration. The ARF could not participate in the 1995 elections. After the Presidential elections of 22nd of September 1996, Ter-Petrosyan re-elected as a President of Armenia. Diaspora campaigned that this elections were rigged by Ter-Petrosyan. This allegation affected Ter-Petrosyan’s image in the US. Besides diaspora arranged protest demonstrations against Ter-Petrosyan in front of the Armenian embassies in some countries. This criticism was substantially increased in 1996 when the peace process in the Nagorno-Karabakh problem entered a new stage. Peace process was conducted under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group. At the OSCE Lisbon Summit in December 1996 a set of principles was accepted which recognized the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Following the Lisbon Summit, Minsk Group co-chairmen initiated a peace proposal, which called the withdrawal of all occupying Armenian armed forces from Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas of Azerbaijan, and the return of all refugees to their homes. Lizbon Summit was considered as a failure of Ter-Petrosyan’s foreign policy by the Armenian opposition. In 1997 OSCE Minsk Group made a new peace proposal, which was identified as ‘step by step’ solution for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. According to this proposal Armenian forces first would withdraw some of the territories that they occupied outside the Nagorno-Karabakh region and then the process would enter the new phase.

Ter-Petrosyan gave the impression that he might agree the OSCE’s proposal. After that diaspora based parties put pressure on Ter-Petrosyan and he resigned in 1998. The normalization of Armenia’s relations with Turkey was one of the aims of Armenian foreign policy during the Ter-Petrosyan era. However, Armenia’s foreign policy towards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was a major obstacle for the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey. Even during the peace process Armenia did not take necessary steps for the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. Armenian foreign policy makers faced difficulty to explain Armenia’s Karabakh policy to the international community. While Armenia was supporting Karabakh Armenians during the conflict, the government of Armenia considered the conflict as internal matter of Azerbaijan. Armenia’s support and strong linkages with the Nagorno-Karabakh administration was obvious. Controversially, while Ter-Petrosyan’s Karabakh policy prevented normalization of Turkey’s relations with Armenia, his same policy also caused heavy criticism from diaspora and the diaspora based political parties, which asked for radical policies regarding Armenia’s relations with Turkey. Ter-Petrosyan also was not successful regarding the aim of reducing Armenian dependency on Russia. At the beginning of his presidency, for this objective Ter-Petrosyan wanted to diversify Armenia’s foreign relations and wanted to establish good relations with the other regional states including Turkey. In fact the ANM’s ideology was also against the dependency on Russia. However, instability in the region, which was created mainly by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict increased Armenia’s caution regarding its security and Armenia became even more depended on Russia in each passing year of the conflict. Armenia became a state where Russia could keep its military bases without any problem. With the agreement was signed between Russia and Armenia on 30th of September 1992, Russian soldiers came to the Armenia’s border with Turkey. Armenia’s relations with Iran also played an important role in Armenian foreign policy.

During the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, economic relations between Armenia and Iran were important for Armenia’s economy. The main concern for Iran was the refugee problem, since during the climax of the conflict Azerbaijani refugees flooded to Iran from the territories, which was occupied by the Armenian forces. As the other regional powers Iran also tried to be a mediator in the conflict, though it was not successful. On 8th of May 1992, Rafsanjani, Ter-Petrosyan and acting Azerbaijani President Yakup Memedov came together and later an agreement was signed in Tehran according to which cease-fire would come into effect within one week. However, the Armenian occupation of Shusha ended the Iran?an mediation and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister stated that Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan and Iran opposed to any change of borders. Political analyst Rasim Musabekov blamed Russia for the failure of the Iranian mediation. He stated that “In 1992, while Iranian Foreign Minister Velayati was visiting Karabakh, a Russian motorized regiment, together with Armenian forces, committed the Khodjali massacre. Weeks later, on the very day Ter-Petrosyan and Mamedov signed a joint communiqué [on the need to restore stability in the region] in Tehran, Armenia seized Shusha with the help of Russia. This shows that Russia was not at all interested in letting Iran seriously mediate [in the peace talks] and strengthen its influence in the region.” Iran generally followed pragmatic policies towards Armenia. Although Iran supported Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, its economic relations with Armenia improved and Iran continued to be an important state for Armenia even after the cease- fire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. 3.

Armenia’s Foreign Policy In the Kocharyan Era

After the Presidential elections took place in April 1998, Robert Kocharyan became the President of the Republic of Armenia. He was the former “Prime Minister” of the “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”. He was also known to be very close to Dashnaks. For this reason, when he became President, Kocharyan gave the impression that Armenia would follow different foreign policy in terms of the peace process in the Nagorno- Karabakh problem and relations with Turkey. In fact, in the first year of his presidency, Kocharyan did not want to come together with Haydar Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and he argued that Aliyev should contact with the Nagorno-Karabakh administration. Kocharyan also put genocide claims against Turkey on the agenda. Moreover, Kocharyan demanded the reduction of the number of the Turkish officials who worked as inspectors in the military stations in Armenia according to the CFE Treaty (Conventional Forces In Europe). When Kocharyan became President, the ARF also was activated in Armenia. On the contrary to his earlier stance regarding the peace process in the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, Kocharyan met with Aliyev to discuss solution for the problem. However, Kocharyan’s close ties with the Nagorno-Karabakh administration and increasing effect of diaspora on the Armenian politics were the main obstacles for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and the development of the Armenia’s relations with Turkey. Even the rumors that Kocharyan bargained with Aliyev for the Armenian withdrawal of the territories which was occupied by the Armenian forces during the conflict caused reactions from the Nagorno-Karabakh administration and Yerkrapah’s, which is the political party established by the persons who fought in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Radical elements in Armenian politics tried to prevent any compromise, which would be beneficial for Armenia and for the regional stability as well. On 27th of April 1999, there was an attack on Armenian Parliament, in which 8 members of the Parliament including Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisyan and Speaker of the Parliament Karen Demirciyan were killed. This attack had an effect also Armenian foreign policy. Despite the fact that Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisyan was against Ter-Petrosyan’s Karabakh policy, he gave the impression that he was ready for compromise in the problem and he would be the person who might support Kocharyan, if Kocharyan were ready for the settlement. However, his assassination ended this possibility and it indicated the fact that violent nature of the Armenian politics pressured Armenian President in order to impact on his foreign policy. During Kocharyan era diaspora’s impact on Armenia has also increased. Diaspora parties, particularly the ARF, which was legalized by Kocharyan as it was mentioned above, started to play an important role. Diaspora and diaspora parties even interrupted Armenian administrations’ opinion about the civilian initiative between the Turks and the Armenians. For example, Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission was established on 9th of July with 4 Armenian and 6 Turkish members. The Armenian Foreign Ministry welcomed the establishment of the Commission. However, the ARF and Dashnaks organizations in the diaspora were against the Commission, which affected the relations between the Armenian government and the ARF. After diaspora’s and Armenian political parties reaction against the Commission, Armenian Foreign Ministry changed its opinion about the Commission and distanced itself from the work of the Commission. Like his predecessor, Ter-Petrosyan, Kocharyan also tried to reduce Armenia’s dependency on Russia. Strong relations with the US might provide the means to lessen the Russian influence on Armenia. Kocharyan attended the celebration for the 50th year anniversary of the establishment of the NATO. The celebrations were held in Washington, during the NATO’s operation in Kosovo when the relations were tense between Russia and the West. Besides his aim to reduce the Russian influence on Armenia, Kocharyan also had a reason from domestic politics in his foreign policy towards the US. The Armenian National Committee of America (the ANCA), one of the biggest diaspora organizations in the US, was a strong supporter of Kocharyan and the ANCA tried to establish close ties between the US and Armenia. However, Russia’s influence on Armenia continued and even increased after Putin’s presidency in Russia. The main reason for this was the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and Russia’s new national security doctrine. Armenia needed to normalize its relations with its neighbors in order to reduce Russia’s influence. But the Nagorno-Karabakh problem prevented normalizations of Armenia’s relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Occupation of Azerbaijan’s territories and situation of ceasefire without a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute created also insecurity in Armenia. Armenia’s uncompromising stance in the dispute made it even more depended on Russia and Russian military stations on its territory. The idea that Russian support of Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh problem is indefinite is made Armenian administration not to consider other alternatives. Russia’s new national security concept and Putin’s idea to revive Russia’s role in the Caucasus was also forced Armenia for close ties with Moscow. Putin’s visit to Armenia on 14-15 September 2001 and the agreements signed during the visit indicated the special relations between the two states. Terrorist actions in the US on 11th of September 2001 and its implications on the Caucasus region had also influence on Armenia and particularly Armenia’s relations with Russia. After 11th of September, the US influence increased in the Caucasus and the US troops were located in Georgia. Moreover, Azerbaijan’s relations with the US was also improved due to the Azerbaijan’s support of the US’s efforts against terrorism. These developments were increased Armenia’s importance for Russia in the Caucasus. Russia’s military stations in Armenia stand as the major indicator of Russia’s strategic role in the region. Armenia’s relations with Iran continued to be important on economic terms for Armenia during the Kocharyan era. In the Kocharyan era, the main focus in the Armenia’s relations with Iran was the cooperation in the field of energy and trade. Kocharyan’s visit to Iran in December 2001 resulted an agreement about softening the trade regime between the two states. The construction of Kajaran tunnel, which would provide the shortest route for Armenia-Iran gas pipeline, was also discussed during the Kocharyan’s visit.


Armenia joined the international community as one of the independent state in 1991. Since then it became a part of the regional instability in the Caucasus. Both Ter-Petrosyan and Kocharyan tried to break Armenia’s dependency on Russia and they were unsuccessful in their efforts. Ter-Petrosyan’s foreign policy towards Turkey might be considered realistic in terms of Armenia’s capacity and Armenia’s need for political and economic stability. However, he could not be successful and the reason for this was particularly the external factor, which influences the Armenian foreign policy, namely, Armenian diaspora. Another reason for his failure was Ter-Petrosyan’s lack of courage in terms of finding solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. If he took necessary steps for the solution, he might be able to curtail the influence of diaspora with the support from other regional states as well as the US. During the criticism against Ter-Petrosyan, which was conducted by diaspora, particularly in the US, Ter-Petrosyan’s supporters were lack of “weapon” to defend him. While he was accused of being a dictator by diaspora, Ter-Petrosyan might have presented himself as a man of peace. However, he did not take initiative for the peace and he did not have enough courage either.

With the Kocharyan’s election Armenian foreign policy showed the sign of change in terms of Armenian-Turkish relations and the peace process of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Diaspora’s support strengthened Kocaryan’s hands in domestic politics as well as foreign policy. Despite his early attitude towards Turkey and peace negotiations of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, later Kocaryan softened his line. Kocaryan also met with Aliyev to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh. However, he is supported by radical elements and they put pressure on Kocharyan not to compromise in Nagorno-Karabaklh and also Armenia’s relations with Turkey. It is difficult to expect that Armenia will take necessary steps for regional stability under Kocharyan because of the groups, which support him. It would be Armenia’s economic and political interest to normalize its relations with Turkey and other neighbors and to manage this Armenian administration should free Armenia from the heavy influence of diaspora and other radical elements.


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